“The land of the free and home of the brave,” a historical statement that has transcended our nation’s timeline, but a lie, nonetheless. For white people, the quote still rings true as ever — but at the cost of marginalized communities.
During the week of May 25, 2020, America’s streets glowed red, and smoke hung in the air as protests demanding justice for George Floyd echoed across the country. Floyd was murdered in cold blood by now-former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, and it was all caught on camera.
“I can’t breathe,” three words with drastically different endings for different people. For the armed protesters against state-wide lockdown orders, their masks supposedly caused labored breathing. For Floyd, it was the knee suffocating him from behind. He wasn’t armed. He wasn’t threatening officers. Eric Garner was suffocated by an officer in 2014, after he said the same three words. Neither Floyd nor Garner were armed, but even if they were, the drastic approach wouldn’t have been necessary. If Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, could be kept alive and arrested after killing nine people in a church, why not Floyd or Garner? Roof committed a racially-motivated hate crime while Garner allegedly sold cigarettes without a tax stamp. Why did Roof actually make it to a trial? Why is it the armed protesters screaming at officers are left unscathed? Well, rather than using their privilege that society has given them as white people to lift up marginalized communities, they’ve chosen to capitalize off it for personal gain.
Recognizing privilege is not always an easy task. For white Americans specifically, it means acknowledging a dark history in our nation’s timeline that has provided white citizens with political and social capital, often used at the expense of Black lives. Accepting this part of our history, and the many advantages that come with it, can often make people uncomfortable. Recognizing the privilege that comes attached with being white in America is only the first step to truly recognizing why, as a nation, we have failed to protect Black children, Black men and Black women from the violent effects of a nation that has never served them.
In the context of other people, recognizing white privilege sometimes means not saying anything at all. The last person that should have anything to say about the lives of Black people is white people. Instead, listen to the experiences of Black people and minorities when they discuss their perspectives on social issues. The reality is, your Black friends, Black students and Black coworkers face an incredibly unique experience living in America in 2020. For years, Black people have been watching others who look like them traumatized and murdered on TV and social media, begging for their lives for alleged minor offenses. None of these cases should have ended in death. A non-violent and alleged crime should not be met with capital punishment, period.
The only reason Trayvon Martin isn’t here today is the fact that his murderer’s bias against Black people dictated their behavior. Had Trayvon Martin been white, he would’ve been able to live his life beyond a mere 17 years. Although white kids can play cops and robbers with airsoft guns or even Nerf guns, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old, was met with lead. If Michael Brown were white, he would’ve survived a verbal altercation with police officers and lived longer than 18 years. Instead, the 12 gunshots would be heard for years to come and set off protests nationwide.
Privilege is something that all white people have. There’s no way around it. For centuries, white people have succeeded by pushing Black people and other minority groups down. The U.S. was built by Black people, the land was stolen from Native Americans by colonizers and white people have time and time again profited off the labor of Black people. It is simply impossible to reflect on American history without recognizing the efforts that minority groups have contributed to the creation of this country.
Despite the fact that this country owes everything it has to Black people, white people have repeatedly targeted Black people, even in the 21st century. Throughout the last century, the U.S. introduced various pieces of legislation in an attempt to restrict where Black Americans could live. The creation of the Federal Housing Administration in 1934 led to “redlining,” which provided a steady stream of misinformation, denial of realty and racial steering to Black Americans. White Americans were given a bright post-depression future, and Black Americans were denied a place to call home.
In the late 19th century and early 20th, Jim Crow laws were enacted in parts of the southern United States. These laws introduced the “separate but equal” trend that heavily populated the segregationist period. Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine are some of the more notable names from this era.
In 1870, Black men were granted the right to vote, and thus was born the white tendency of voter suppression. Voter suppression can appear in various shapes and forms. It might even come off as something entirely different. Voter ID laws, registration restrictions, purges, felony disenfranchisement and even gerrymandering all have an effect on who can vote. These factors not only restrict voters’ rights, they affect Black people and other communities disproportionately and more often than white people. In 2018, Georgia’s gubernatorial race was investigated due to allegations of voter suppression and a potential conflict of interest. Current Gov. Brian Kemp served as Secretary of State during the 2018 election, in which he was also a candidate for governor. During that same year, more than 200 polling places in counties with predominantly Black populations shut down. Additionally, Black residents reported waiting hours in line to vote while hundreds of available voting machines were unused, and thousands of Black voters’ applications were rejected for use. Kemp’s office also purged 1.4 million voters from the rolls during his tenure. The investigation was dismissed a year later as a political effort by Democrats trying to undermine the election in a generally Republican state.
According to The Sentencing Project, Black people made up 27% of all incarcerated Americans, double their share of the total population. Black Americans are also five times more likely to be incarcerated due to the unjust system that favors the white and wealthy. In terms of disparities within drug sentencing, the NAACP published 17 million white Americans taking an illegal substance in the last month and only 6 million Black Americans, but the imprisonment rate remains six times higher for Black people.
White Americans have the most privilege in this country. Walking down the street, going for a run, even getting a speeding ticket aren’t death sentences for white people, but the fact of the matter is that Black Americans’ lives are put on the line every single day. Utilizing privilege to help marginalized communities is something all white people can do. Donating to organizations, such as the Minnesota Freedom Fund, the Minnesota ACLU, the Columbus Freedom Fund, The Black Visions Collective and Reclaim The Block, is a simple way to support Black communities, and that has never been more important. Aside from monetary donations, calling out blatant racism in your friends and family, calling your representatives as well as working with and supporting Black organizations and businesses all utilize your privilege to address racial injustice.
Yusra Shegow is a sophomore studying history and education at Capital University. Please note that the views and opinions of columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Yusra? Tweet her @YusraShegow.
Jack Hiltner is a sophomore studying strategic communications at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Jack? Tweet him @JackHiltner.